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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on October 11th, 2012.

What IS it about hummus that everyone loves so much? What is it for you? The fact that it’s a more healthy appetizer?  It’s meatless?  It’s easy? Or just because it’s so tasty? How about all of those things?


This hummus does NOT contain tahini.

For many years I just bought ready made hummus – seems like every grocery store has fresh hummus on their refrigerator shelves. Some I’ve had have been really good. But then, some others I’ve had have been downright awful. I’ve concluded a few things – true hummus contains tahini (sesame seed paste). It’s not on every grocery store shelf. There are lots of brands of tahini out there – just do a search for tahini images and you’ll see what I mean. This one shown at right is the one in my refrigerator at the moment. The companies that produce hummus don’t always put very much tahini in the hummus. Why? Because it’s expensive. So the less they can add, the cheaper the product. Cheaper = more sales, they think. Cheaper may also mean a less tasty product. That’s my analysis, anyway. The other thing is the oil – hummus needs just the right amount of oil added. And not cheap vegetable oil, but olive oil. Not expensive extra virgin necessarily, but good, tasty oil. Food producers probably don’t do that either – good olive oil is expensive too. So they use an inferior product and add less of it. They allow the garbanzo beans to be the glue. There is one brand I will buy, though – Sabra. Not every grocery store carries it. Theirs is good – and they sell it in a few different flavors. When I’m in a hurry, with no time to cook, that’s the brand I search for.

And then, about 15 or more years ago I attended a cooking class where the instructor made her own hummus. It’s a recipe I’ve used over, and over, and over again. It’s a particularly delicious appetizer served the way it is – Layered Hummus and Eggplant. It’s on my Fav’s list, in case you haven’t read it before now. Sometimes I just plain CRAVE this dish. I could eat it as dinner, it’s so gosh-darned good. But the hummus, which is the bottom layer of that appetizer, is my go-to hummus recipe. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve made it. But I must have tahini to do it. Fortunately, tahini keeps in the refrigerator for a long time. This recipe below doesn’t require hummus.

Well, so now we’re back to this recipe. Cooks around the world, I suppose, have begun to be inventive with hummus – not just additions like garlic or parsley – but adding other totally different ingredients – like spinach. If you use greens in hummus, you probably don’t need the tahini. This recipe doesn’t need the tahini at all – the spinach adds lots of flavor and the tahini would overpower the spinach.

This appetizer/dip is SO easy to make – the spices do have to be roasted in a dry skillet, but that takes just minutes. The rest is combined in the food processor and it’s done. Zip. Quick. If you buy already baked or toasted pita chips, you’ll have this appetizer ready in a flash. I don’t generally have baby spinach in my frig, though, so this recipe will require planning ahead. Here, I served it with sangak bread, which is just delish for hummus.

In case you aren’t familiar with garam masala, it’s an Indian spice mixture. Most grocery stores now carry it – well, they do here in California anyway. You can make your own – here’s a link to a garam masala recipe. I have a friend who gives me garam masala – her aunt brings it from India whenever she visits, or any member of the family. Every Indian cook has her own favorite recipe for it. If you have a good-sized spice pantry, you likely have all the needed ingredients already – it’s just a matter of combining them.

What I liked: everything about it. Easy. Tasty. Healthy.

What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing!

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Spinach Hummus

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, caterer and cooking instructor, 10/2012
Serving Size: 6

8 ounces garbanzo beans, canned — drained
1 clove garlic — peeled
1 cup baby spinach — packed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted
Crackers, or toasted pita bread triangles for serving

1. Toast the garam masala, cumin, salt and pepper in a dry skillet for 2-3 minutes until fragrant but not quite smoking. Set aside to cool.
2. Combine the drained garbanzo beans and garlic in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add spinach, lemon juice and toasted spices and blend thoroughly.
3. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil.
4. Scoop the hummus into a small serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Serve with toasted pita triangles or crackers.
Per Serving: 162 Calories; 12g Fat (66.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 473mg Sodium.

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